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Whitt Patrick Pond "Whitt" RSS Feed (Cambridge, MA United States)

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Bird Box: A Novel
Bird Box: A Novel
by Josh Malerman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.47
69 used & new from $7.02

4.0 out of 5 stars A fine unique wine of a horror novel, where every sip will give you the cold shivers, November 28, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Bird Box: A Novel (Paperback)
Bird Box by John Malerman is absolutely one of the most tensely claustrophobic horror novels I've ever read. Some horror is based on fear of things you see. And some horror is based on fear of things you don't see. Bird Box has a different kind of horror going on - a fear of things that you must not see.

Malorie lives in a run-down house with two small children. The three of them have not seen or spoken to another human being in four years. All of the windows and doors have been carefully covered over with blankets, tape, paper, tarps, anything to prevent any possibility of ever glimpsing anything outside the house, even by accident. When Malorie has to go outside, she wears a blindfold tied tightly in place. The children sleep with blindfolds in carefully covered pens. Because there are _things_ out there, and to see them, even for a second, means madness and painful torturous death. But the day has come when Malorie and the two children must leave the house, feel their way to a boat on the river, and then blindly make their way down the river, in the hope that there's a place of safety that still exists in the world.

What's even more remarkable about Bird Box is that it's Malerman's first novel. It was nominated this year for the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, a nomination that was well deserved.

Highly, highly recommended.

Bridge of Spies BD + DVD + Digital [Blu-ray]
Bridge of Spies BD + DVD + Digital [Blu-ray]
Price: $26.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly engaging telling of an important episode of Cold War history, November 27, 2015
Sometimes you have all the right talents coming together to create a masterpiece of a film. Directed by Steven Spielberg (Lincoln, Schindler's List) from a screenplay by brothers Ethan & Joel Coen (Fargo, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?) and Matt Charman (Black Work), with Oscar-caliber performances by Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance and a superb score by Thomas Newman, Bridge of Spies is one of those films.

The film begins in 1957 when tensions between the US and the Soviet Union were quickly ratcheting up and both sides were doing everything they could to spy on each other. We first meet an unremarkable-looking man (Mark Rylance) quietly painting a self-portrait in a small drab rented room in Brooklyn, NY. He receives a phone call to which he only listens and says nothing, then hangs up, gathers his painting materials, and heads out to a riverside bench where he proceeds to paint again. But as we watch, we discover that the man is a spy retrieving information that was left for him under the bench, and when he returns to his room, which is promptly raided by the FBI, we then learn as he is arrested that he is a Soviet citizen going under the name Rudolph Abel, one of many names he's used in his work.

The scene then shifts to a law office where one of the firm's senior partners, James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is discussing an insurance claim with another lawyer representing claimants in an accident, and we are shown that Donovan is a man who uses words with dogged attention to clarity and precision of meaning as he negotiates how the claim is to be handled, never allowing himself to be distracted from what he perceives to be the heart of the matter. These traits are soon to be tested as he finds out later that he's being asked to defend Rudolph Abel, now the most hated man in the US. Donovan is reluctant to say yes to the request, but in the end his belief in the Constitution's mandate that everyone, no matter what they're accused of, is entitled to a proper legal defense, will not let him say no. And so he meets Abel and begins to prepare his defense, knowing that it will make him the second-most hated man in the US.

The film then moves to introduce the third character in what will become one of the most famous incidents in Cold War history, an Air Force captain named Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) who is being recruited by the CIA to be a pilot in their ultra-secret project to fly specially designed high-altitude U2 spy planes over the Soviet Union and photograph possible nuclear weapons sites. As fate would have it, Powers ends up being shot down on his first mission, captured by the Soviets and then tried as a spy.

All of this gradual build up leads to the central story of the film - how Donovan ends up being the unofficial behind the scenes negotiator between the US and the Soviet Union, who for political reasons cannot be seen to be even talking to each other, for a possible exchange of spies - Abel for Powers - in one of the tensest locations in the Cold War: Berlin, right at the time that the Iron Curtain, particularly the notorious Berlin Wall, is going up. With the additional complication of an American economics student, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) who was also arrested in East Berlin and charged with espionage at the same time, whose case also comes to Donovan's attention. What happens is what makes up the rest of the film and is better simply seen than described in any way here. It is a mark of how well Bridge of Spies was done that you will be completely immersed in the events and the feel of the period, which some older viewers (like myself) may remember but younger generations have only read about.

The performances are all excellent, but Hanks and Rylance are far and away the stand-outs. Hanks (Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Philadelphia) does a masterful job of bringing out Donovan's dogged dedication to both his clients and to what he feels are the principles that make up the foundation of American law and of basic justice. His performance also makes Donovan real as he struggles with the incredible strains of what he is called upon to do, a man thrown into a political battleground at the height of the Cold War and who has to keep a cool head, not only for himself but for the three men whose ultimate fate depends on what he negotiates for them, and for the two world powers edging dangerously close to going from a cold war to a hot one. Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall and a number of acclaimed stage roles) is quietly mesmerizing as the enigmatic Rudolf Abel, a man who seems perpetually imperturbable, resigned to his fate but unswerving from his silent dedication to his cause. But at the same time Rylance makes Abel human as well, aided by the superbly written dialogue between Abel and Donovan that the Coen brothers and Mark Charman provided them with.

One minor quibble I have with the film is that the way it unfolds gives the impression that the events being depicted happened fairly close together over a seeming matter of months or maybe a year when in fact they take place over a five-year period, from 1957 to 1962. This was not intentional on the part of the film-makers, but it is the impression one receives nonetheless. It won't detract from one's enjoyment of the film, but I feel that it would've served history better to give a sense of the actual amount of time that was passing.

Highly, highly recommended for anyone who appreciates sheer craftsmanship in film making and enjoys a thoroughly engaging telling of an important episode in the history of the Cold War.

The Martian [Blu-ray + Digital HD]
The Martian [Blu-ray + Digital HD]
Price: $19.54

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.", November 20, 2015
Directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Blade Runner, Alien) from a screenplay by Drew Goddard (World War Z, The Cabin in the Woods) based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, The Martian is one of the best hard-science scifi films to hit the screen in decades. Remarkably faithful to the novel and thoroughly engaging for its entire 144 minute length, this film is definitely worth taking in. It's also worth seeing on the big screen for the cinematography - courtesy of Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean, Prometheus) - particularly the vast Martian landscapes (Wadi Rum in Jordan) and the later scenes that take place up in space.

The film opens on Mars where we see the third manned Mars mission crew carrying out their duties. Their activities however are cut short by a sudden Martian sandstorm that shows up, a storm so severe that the mission is scrubbed and the crew must leave the planet. In the process of heading to the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) though, one of the mission crew, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by a piece of flying debris and blown away from the others, the debris piercing his suit in such a way that it damages the part of the suit that gives out his biometric readings and his location. Believing Watney to be dead and his body lost, and with the storm threatening to tip the MAV over at any moment, Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) reluctantly gives the order to take off. But, as Watney later gamely says in the film, "Surprise!" He's not dead. Seriously banged up, but very much alive. And very determined to stay that way.

That, however, is going to take a lot of doing. In his daily video log, Watney sums up his situation thusly: "If the oxygenator breaks down, I'll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I'll die of thirst. If the Hab beaches, I'll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen. I'll eventually run out of food and starve to death." On top of all that, his only hope of rescue is the next Mars mission, which isn't scheduled to reach Mars for three years. And he needs to find a way to let NASA - and the rest of Earth - know that he's still alive. "In the face of overwhelming odds," he concludes, "I'm left with only one option: I'm gonna have to science the _sh*t_ out of this." And that's what makes the rest of the movie.

There are of course scenes where the action jumps to NASA on Earth as they discover first that Watney might have survived, then confirm that he is alive, and then start to figure out what they can do to get him home. And other scenes where the action jumps to the spaceship Hermes where the other members of the Ares 3 mission are making their way back to Earth, still thinking that Watney died on Mars.

Aside from Scott's smooth, sure-handed direction and Goddard's nicely-paced screenplay, it's the excellent cast of actors that really make The Martian work. Some valid questions have been raised about certain casting decisions where the ethnicity of the actor doesn't match the character, but in truth the choices made don't get in the way of the how the film comes across as the actors in question were all fine actors. Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom, Gettysburg) is in fine dry form as Teddy Sanders, the Director of NASA who has to balance the life of one lone astronaut against the safety and morale of the returning Ares 3 crew, while figuring out how best to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of mounting an actual rescue and keeping Watney alive long enough for it to reach him. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) is quietly convincing as Commander Lewis who has to make a lot of hard choices to do what she feels is needed, and more than anyone else, to carry the weight of those decisions on her shoulders. Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) hits just the right tone as Annie Montrose, NASA's official spokesperson, who has to publicly keep things positive while personally knowing just how long the odds are. And Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings) is suitably stubborn as Mitch Henderson, the Hermes flight director who knows his people better than anyone and knows what they'd want to be told.

And of course there's Matt Damon (Invictus, Good Will Hunting) who manages the doubly difficult task of carrying fully half of the film's screen time while conveying both Watney's desperate situation and the quirky sense of humor that is a big part of what enables Watney to keep dealing with his situation without giving in to despair. This is no small thing. The humor in the book is a big part of what makes it such a good read, but reading and seeing on the big screen are two different things, and to make it work Damon has to bring out Watney's humor but keep the audience always aware of how vulnerable his situation is and never let things slip into outright comedy. I'm happy to say that Damon pulls off this delicate balance with a superb yet subtle performance, making Watney's quirky but resolute determination to survive the true heart of the film.

The musical score by Harry Gregson-Williams (Shrek, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe) has just the right touch, adding to the feel of what's unfolding on the screen but never overpowering or distracting from it.

Highly, highly recommended for anyone who likes action/adventure/scifi in general and especially for anyone who likes their scifi realistic and believable. And for anyone who remembers what it was like when the space program captivated the world with Neil Armstrong taking "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" and Apollo 13's "Houston, we've had a problem."

PS - Read the book. Seriously. There's a lot of good stuff in the book that couldn't make it into the movie because of running time, and The Martian is a great read in its own right.

Price: $19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A compelling look at a period of history we are taught little about - the Women's Suffrage movement in the UK, November 18, 2015
This review is from: Suffragette (DVD)
Directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, This Little Life) from a screenplay by Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady), Suffragette is a fairly compelling look at a period of history that is usually given short shrift in the history books, the Women's Suffrage movement of the early 1900's, specifically in this case the movement as it took place in the UK.

Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) is a young woman who works, along with her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) in an industrial laundry in London. Not remotely political or activist, her life consists of her work, her husband and their young son George (Adam Michael Dodd). Or at least it does until she unexpectedly gets caught up in a suffragette riot one day while delivering a package, where she spots a friend of hers from the laundry, a woman named Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), who is apparently one of the suffragettes agitating for the right to vote. Gradually, events draw Maud step by step into the movement as she begins to see what these women are fighting for and how it matters. Her increasing involvement brings her into contact with other British women from all walks of life, including a pharmacist's wife, Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) who knows as much if not more than her husband about medicine, a teacher, Emily Davison (Natalie Press), an MP's wife, Alice Haughton (Romola Garai), and eventually, the formidable leader of the British women's suffrage movement, Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). She also frequently encounters a police inspector (Brendan Gleeson) whose job it is to maintain surveillance on the women in the movement and to harass and disrupt their efforts on the government's behalf.

The film is not without its flaws. For one thing, it doesn't provide much background or context of the women's suffrage movement in the UK prior to the point at which the film begins, around 1912. You have to kind of fill things in as you go, but even though the film is quite effective at showing just how limited women's legal rights were at the time and how formidable the opposition - both political and cultural - they faced was, you're still left trying to extend the picture to the country as a whole beyond the limited snapshot the film provides you with. For another thing, it feels unbalanced in how the story plays out as one of the most important - and actually historical - characters gets introduced fairly late into the film and we don't get to really know her before she ends up playing the role in events that were pivotal in both the film and in real life. I can't say more without possibly giving a spoiler. Suffice it to say that the film would have been better if her character had appeared earlier and been worked more integrally into the overall story.

Also worth noting is the superb attention to detail by production designer Alice Normington (Great Expectations, The Woman in White), cinematographer Eduard Grau (The Gift, Buried, A Single Man) and costume designer Jane Petrie (Moon, Is Anybody There?), who together really brought the look and feel of the British Suffragette era to life on the screen. And the musical score by Alexandre Desplat (The Imitation Game, The King's Speech) was seamlessly woven in, enhancing the mood of the scenes without distracting from what was happening in the film. High quality all around.

Highly recommended for it's portrayal of the conditions and circumstances women had to face before winning the vote and how intense that struggle was, and for a number of fine performances.

DVD ~ Hugh Jackman
Price: $27.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A camel of a movie - interesting to look at, but not the horse one was hoping for, November 13, 2015
There's an old joke that goes "Definition of a camel: a horse designed by a committee." Directed by Joe Wright (Hanna, Atonement) from a screenplay by Jason Fuchs (Ice Age: Continental Drift), Pan is a camel of a movie. And I say this as someone who really wanted to like this movie. I've loved the story of Peter Pan since I was a child, I've loved Hugh Jackman in almost everything I've seen him in, and I thought Wright's Atonement and Pride & Prejudice were beautifully done. But something went seriously wrong here and Pan, while it may be a lot of things, is not remotely the classic story and characters envisioned by J.M. Barrie. Seriously, if you want to enjoy this movie, don't go in expecting it to be Barrie's Peter Pan. It's not.

If the blame for Pan has to be laid at someone's feet, half of it belongs to Jason Fuchs for the screenplay. Why he was chosen for this big-budget high profile project is a mystery as the only previous experience he had at writing for a feature film was Ice Age: Continental Drift, which was another jumbled up mess of a movie. The other half of the blame though goes to Wright as director and to the producers who kept pushing the release date back so they could keep tinkering with the film, trying to compensate in CGI effects and 3D for what the story lacked from the beginning in coherence and heart. I dearly wish film makers would learn one lesson from films like this of the last 20 years: while CGI effects and 3D can make a good film better, they _can't_ make a weak film good.

(Caution - minor spoilers in next two paragraphs).

From the beginning of the film, you know this isn't the Peter Pan you were expecting or - if you're like me - hoping for. It starts in WWII London, for one thing, where a young boy named Peter (Levi Miller) is in an orphanage where he was left as a baby by his mother, Mary (Amanda Seyfried). The orphanage is run by a woman named Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke), who isn't remotely motherly. When he learns that Mother Barnabas is hoarding food for herself, Peter and his best friend Nibs (Lewis MacDougall) try to steal it for themselves and the other orphans but they get caught. In the process though, Peter finds a letter apparently written by his mother, declaring her undying love for him and promising that they will meet again "in this world or another".

Things then take a strange turn - even for this movie - where Mother Barnabas, in retaliation, summons pirates who kidnap Peter, Nibs and several other boys. Nibs manages to escape but Peter does not and ends up being taken to Neverland, a magical realm beyond space and time, where things get even stranger as he is greeted by a gleefully villainous Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) and a host of pirates and slave boys singing Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. Peter is to become another slave boy and mine for fairy dust for Blackbeard for reasons I won't even bother mentioning. In the mines, Peter meets and befriends another miner, James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), who looks more like Indiana Jones than a pirate, still has both his hands, and sounds like he can't decide if he's doing a John Wayne, Jack Nicholson or DeForest Kelly impression.

(end caution - no more spoilers, or at least none that were not given away in the trailers)

I will have to give credit to Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables, Wolverine, The Prestige) for completely throwing himself into the role of a scenery-chewing over-the-top Blackbeard, giving the film one of its few redeeming merits. You can tell Jackman is having enormous fun with this role and the feeling is infectious, at least when things aren't whirling about like an out-of-control merry-go-round. And newcomer Levi Miller does well as the earnest spirited orphan boy Peter who is destined to become Peter Pan. One only wishes he'd been given a better script that would have allowed for some actual character development. The good news is that Garrett Hedlund (Unbroken, Troy) 's career will probably survive the hands-down worst portrayal of James Hook to ever appear on film. But the less said about Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network) 's Tiger Lilly, the better, though you might see Pan getting a Razzie nomination for Worst Costume Design for her Tiger Lilly outfit alone. Why anyone involved with this project thought that the casting and script decisions around this role were good ideas will be a mystery for the ages.

Also worth mentioning on the positive side is the musical score by John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek, Bolt, Ice Age) which is appropriately soaring and adventurous where it needs to be and quietly sentimental in the few scenes that call for it.

But again, the biggest problem with Pan is that it feels like it was scripted by a committee who ended up throwing anything and everything into it in the hope that somehow something coherent and marketable would come out of it. Changing the period from Edwardian England to WWII? Bringing in the real-life pirate Blackbeard? Making Peter dyslexic? Making Tiger Lilly a white swordswoman? Pulling a Moulin Rouge and throwing Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991) and the Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop (1976) randomly into the mix? Borrowing situations and scenes from everything from Annie, Oliver Twist and Time Bandits to the Pirates of the Caribbean, Mad Max and Indiana Jones movies, not to mention the TV show Once Upon A Time? Fill in everything else with whirling green-screen CGI scenes rushed into production at the last minute? The result is a too-busy blur of too many ideas and too much 'action' with too little character and too little heart.

Note: though Pan was clearly set up to have a sequel, the likelihood of that film ever being made is remote in the extreme. After having lost an estimated $92M, Pan is the biggest box-office bomb of 2015.

Recommended as okay entertainment provided you don't expect it to be anything like the Peter Pan you might have known and loved, and for Hugh Jackman's scenery-chewing performance as Blackbeard and Levi Miller's Peter-that-could-have-been.

PS - If you want to see a prequel/alternate-telling to Peter Pan that was done _well_, check out the fantasy graphic novel Peter Pan by Regis Loisel, originally written in French but recently translated into English. Brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 27, 2015 7:39 PM PST

DVD ~ Jafar Panahi
Price: $29.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taxi takes you along for the ride, November 6, 2015
This review is from: Taxi (DVD)
Jafar Panahi's Taxi is not your usual film by any stretch of the imagination. To put it into any context at all, you have to start with the knowledge that the director, Jafar Panahi (This is Not a Film, Offside, The Circle) has been barred since 2010 by Iran's Revolutionary Court from making films in Iran and from leaving the country. So Panahi must resort to unusual tactics and legal stratagems to make any kind of film at all, and one of the results of this approach is his latest film, Taxi.

The basic setup for Taxi is simple. A film director who's not allowed to make films (Panahi, playing himself) is driving a taxi around Tehran picking up fares. But he has a camera set up on the dashboard of the taxi - not hidden but in plain sight - recording everything. At first the camera is pointed outward and you see the streets of Tehran that the taxi is driving on, but when Panahi picks up his first fare, he turns the camera around to record his passengers who engage in conversation, first with him, then with each other (apparently it is common practice in Tehran for taxis to stop and pick up additional fares who may - or may not - be going the same way that their initial fare is going). The conversations range from mundane to lively to heated to just plain strange. But all offer some insight into life in current-day Iran, and most particularly as the film goes on, into how difficult it is to express any view that the Revolutionary Court does not want expressed.

One of the things that's interesting in this approach is that in Taxi, Panahi has reduced film-making to a microcosm. The taxi is his studio, where he is not only the director and writer but also character and cameraman. And you see the film as it is being made. Or at least that is the feeling you get, which is quite intentional. Another interesting thing is the way the film comes across. At first, you're not sure if what you're watching is a documentary or something along the lines of reality-TV, because there is a natural, unstaged feel to the people getting in and out of Panahi's taxi and to the conversations they have. After a while, you realize that in fact it is all staged, but it has been done so smoothly and so seamlessly that it sucks you into its projection of reality, and even when the realization comes, you still feel that you're seeing something real because even though the characters and situations have been staged, the things they say have the ring of underlying truth to them.

It is remarkable that the actors Panahi used in making Taxi were non-professionals because they do such a great job of performing in a completely natural way. The only 'actor' whose name is known is Hana Saeidi, Panahi's real-life niece who appears - quite engagingly - as herself in the film, completely stealing the scenes she's in. The reason that none of the other actors' names are known is because Taxi has no opening or closing credits. It simply begins, and then later ends, with only a note at the end explaining that the lack of credits was a necessary legal maneuver so that his film would not be judged as a "releasable" film and therefore subject to the Iranian film rules.

Highly recommended.

Jelly Pumpkins Fall Halloween candy 1 pound
Jelly Pumpkins Fall Halloween candy 1 pound
Offered by Beulahs Candyland
Price: $10.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Halloween treat for the office but a rather expensive way to get them, October 30, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The jelly pumpkins themselves were fine and are very popular at the office which is what I bought them for. My only complaint is that at $10.19 for one pound it's rather on the expensive side to purchase them this way. When they're at the supermarket, I only pay $2.99 for a 1 lb 8 oz tub. The trick is _finding_ them. Only one supermarket chain in our area seems to carry them, they only order them for Halloween, and they tend to run out fairly quickly.

Infinitely Polar Bear
Infinitely Polar Bear
DVD ~ Keir Dullea
Price: $25.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intimate look at the problems of family, love, life and mental illness, October 30, 2015
This review is from: Infinitely Polar Bear (DVD)
Written and directed by Maya Forbes (The Larry Sanders Show, Monsters vs Aliens), Infinitely Polar Bear is an engaging, well-acted film about a family coping with the usual problems of life that have been complicated for them by one member's mental illness.

Cameron "Cam" Stuart (wonderfully played by Mark Ruffalo) is a complicated man. Back in the 60's, he was a typical free-spirited rich kid who got kicked out of both Exeter and Harvard but didn't really care because he came from money. On the plus side, his free-thinking devil-may-care ways and boyish charm attracted the interest of Maggie (equally well-played by Zoe Saldana), who ended up marrying him and having two daughters with him. But that was then and this is now (1978) and Cam, who's smart and gifted but unable to hold onto any job for very long, has been diagnosed as having bi-polar disorder. After a particularly stressful manic episode that truly scares Maggie and the girls, Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide), Cam has to go into treatment and stay at a halfway house. Adding to all of this stress is that the family is essentially broke and Maggie's job can barely keep them treading at poverty-level water. Although Cam came from money, his parents Murray (Keir Dullea) and Pauline (Beth Dixon) can't help because their money is all but gone and his other relatives who still have money won't help for various reasons. When Cam is finally released from the halfway house and comes home, the family is faced with some very difficult decisions.

With Cam unable to find work and the girls ending up having to go to a problematic school because of the lower-income neighborhood they now live in, Maggie decides the only hope they have for improving their situation is if she goes back to school and gets her business degree. The problem is that they're in Boston and the only school she can get into is in New York. Which leads to the next difficult decision: can Cam keep himself together enough to be a functional stay-at-home dad and look after the girls while Maggie is away in New York?

A lot of Infinitely Polar Bear's intimate feeling comes from Forbes' drawing on her own personal experience growing up with a bi-polar father and her mother's having to be absent while going to business school. The "Polar Bear" reference in the title comes from her father's joking nickname for his condition. In an added element of intimacy, Forbes cast her own daughter, Imogene Wolodarsky, as Amelia, the older daughter in the film who is also Forbes' counterpart from her own childhood.

But what really makes Infinitely Polar Bear work as a film is Forbes' seamless direction and insightful script combined with superb performances from the entire cast. Forbes does not give her characters any easy outs from their problems and brings out how even the smallest things can become mountain-like obstacles to be dealt with. Some of the best scenes occur between Cam and Maggie where Ruffalo's Cam desperately wants to repair things but Saldana's Maggie keeps a cautious emotional distance, not because she doesn't love him anymore - she does, very much - but because she's seem him relapse too many times. And the other best scenes occur between Cam and his daughters where Amelia and Faith are kids needing their father to be the mature one but half the time find themselves having to be the mature ones when Cam's manic impulses threaten to get the better of him. There is a sequence of scenes between Cam and the girls that are nothing short of brilliant as we see them switching roles and reactions, first with Cam being childish and the girls being mature, then with the girls being childish and Cam forced into being mature, and then with both Cam and the girls being childish at the same time and finally with all of them being mature at the same time. It really drives home just how complicated family relationships are, particularly at that age. Wolodarsky and Aufderheide are truly convincing as Amelia and Faith, not only as simply being young girls and daughters but also as being older and younger sister to each other.

But although everyone in the film delivers excellent performances, Mark Ruffalo still stands out for his portrayal of Cam. It is a very layered performance, which it has to be in order to bring out just how complex of an individual Cam is and how much he has to struggle to be, if not actually normal, at least functional enough to do what his wife and kids need him to do. Ruffalo walks that very fine line magnificently, showing what Cam is like when he's handling things well and what he's like when he isn't. And how it's a struggle for him to know when he slipping across the line, giving into impulses that make sense to him but unable - or sometimes unwilling - to see or comprehend how people are reacting to his behavior. Ruffalo truly deserves an Academy Aware nomination for his performance, and if there's any justice in Hollywood he'll get it.

On a side note, the musical score by Theodore Shapiro (The Devil Wears Prada, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) is well done, enhancing the mood in various scenes without distracting from what is taking place on the screen. And the cinematography by Bobby Bukowski (99 Homes, The Stone Angel) gives all of the scenes in and around Boston and in all of the interior scenes a very natural un-staged feel.

Highly recommended as a finely delivered story about the complexities of mental illness, of family and of small victories can matter as much as big ones. And about how love, while it may not in fact be able to solve all problems, can at least make them endurable.

Birthright Volume 1: Homecoming (Birthright Tp)
Birthright Volume 1: Homecoming (Birthright Tp)
by Joshua Williamson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.88
74 used & new from $2.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very different approach to the high-fantasy hero genre, October 27, 2015
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Created and written by Joshua Williamson (Nailbiter, Ghosted), Birthright is something rather different in the high-fantasy hero genre. Volume 1: Homecoming collects the first five issues.

The set-up alone will hook you to begin with: in a field near some woods, a young boy named Mikey is playing catch with his dad on his birthday while his mother and older brother, Brennan, are preparing a surprise birthday party for him back at the house. The ball goes into the woods and Mikey goes after it... and doesn't come back. A search is organized but turns up nothing. Months pass, accusations fly, suspicions about his father grow rampant, the family falls apart. And then, a year later, the family is summoned to the police station because a strange man - fully grown, powerfully built, with long dark hair and a beard and wearing tattoos and armor of all things - has turned up claiming to be their lost son. It's outrageous and impossible, but the father is immediately sure: "That's him. That's our son. Mikey." And that's just in the first 15 pages.

And that's just the set-up. As things unfold, it's clear that even though it's only a year in our world, it's been many years where Mikey had been, and he has a lot of stories to tell. But lest you think you've seen this before, let me assure you that you haven't. I can't say much as I don't want to spoil anything or give anything away. As fantastic as the stories Mikey relates are, there are unexpected twists and turns ahead and it gradually becomes clear that Mikey isn't telling everything, not by a long shot. And there are some things that even Mikey doesn't know, at least one of which is going to come as a big surprise to him.

It's not giving anything away though to say that the action in Birthright shifts back and forth between current-day Earth that Mikey has returned to and flashbacks to Terrenos - "the meanest land in all creation" - the place where he apparently spent the last what have been for him twenty years of his life. The place he was transported to in order to become a long prophesied hero. But what keeps everything fresh is the complexity of the characters and their situations. Things start out relatively simple but quickly grow more and more complex, with layers of subtlety revealed that leave you wondering just where the lines are _really_ drawn and how much a character can bend without breaking.

The artwork by Anderi Bressan (Nailbiter, Suicide Squad, Green Lantern) is both vivid and detailed, and the expressiveness that Bressan lends to the characters' facial expressions and body language gives an added layer of depth to what is brought out in the dialogue.

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys high sword & sorcery fantasy with complex characters and something extra that lets it stand out from the rest.

Empowered Unchained Volume 1
Empowered Unchained Volume 1
by Adam Warren
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.89
57 used & new from $9.62

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun as always with our favorite characters and filled with little pop-culture references to spot in the artwork., October 27, 2015
Adam Warren's Empowered Unchained Vol. 1 brings us more of our favorite super-chica and her friends and fellow capes, most particularly Thugboy, Ninjette, the Maidman, the Superhomeys and of course the all-seeing and always alliterative alpha artifact, the Caged Demonwolf. This volume collects a series of Empowered one-shots and includes artwork by Emily Warren, Ryan Kinnaird, John Staton, Takeshi Miyazawa and Brandon Graham. The humor is rich as ever with Warren's dialogue working in his satirical takes on the comic superhero genre and on culture in general. One running gag involves a villain who keeps saying "Close Window" for some reason. The reason for this, when finally revealed, is hilarious and something pretty much everyone will relate to.

As any reader of Empowered over the years has almost certainly also pondered, I often wonder just how much of Warren's time for any issue of Empowered has to be devoted solely to coming up with the breathtakingly intricate and convoluted dialogue needed for the Caged Demonwolf. This volume is no exception and if anything it rivals any and all previous issues where the CD has held forth at length with "The Wench with a Million Sighs". As a sample of what to expect, consider "Like the gentle zephyr that hings at a hurricane's hither-coming... or the innocuous puff of steam that augurs an eruption volcanic... several of the alpha wench's more sinister susurrations steadfastly signify the fearful fraying of her terrifying and titanically tempestuous temper!" How long would it take you to come up with something like that? And do it in panel after panel after panel? One of my favorite things about Empowered.

I found this issue extra fun for all of the pop-culture references worked into the background art. The "Animal Style" one-shot in particular has a lot of things to spot in the Alternate Timeline Superhero Auto Show, referencing a lot of 60's pop culture in everything from the Green Hornet to Stretch Armstong to Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. Another fun thing in this one-shot is Warren's take on the perils of renting one's bag-guy-gear for a job.

Highly recommended for any fans of Empowered, of superhero satire, and/or of Adam Warren's work in general.

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